Hale Cook Elementary once closed. Now, the school is celebrating its 100th anniversary
Hale Cook Elementary served students in Kansas City for decades before shuttering in 2009. Now, the school is celebrating its 100th anniversary and the community that reopened it.
Hale Cook Elementary School celebrated 100 years of educating students on Friday — an accomplishment that was nearly cut short.
The building, located near 73rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, first opened to students in 1923. It served Kansas City Public Schools students until it was shuttered in 2009 as the district went through a massive consolidation.
Within a few years, families in the Waldo neighborhood began pushing to reopen the school. A group of young parents formed the Friends of Hale Cook and started knocking on doors and holding community meetings to recruit more families.
“We were at the crux of the community trying to really drive an effort to repopulate our neighborhood schools,” said Ashley Hand, one of the group’s founding members.
Hand said she knew the benefits of a neighborhood school from her own experience in public education before moving to Kansas City. She said her husband, who grew up locally, was part of the generation who enrolled their kids elsewhere as the district struggled with accreditation.
After surveying families, Hand said she learned that many believed they could succeed at a neighborhood school but didn’t have a clear path to organizing one.
“It was really important coming back and starting our own family to eliminate the barriers and create more opportunity for people to access a solid public education,” Hand said. “It was very important for us to kind of look to bringing families back to the school district.”
Then-superintendent John Covington told the group that it needed to enroll 300 students before the district would consider reopening the school. They missed that mark, but gained the support of Steve Green when he succeeded Covington.
While the Hale Cook building was renovated, the school opened at the nearby John T. Hartman Elementary with just over 50 students. In 2014, the building reopened. The school started with two kindergarten classes and one first grade class, then added a new grade each year until reaching the sixth grade.
Now, the elementary school serves more than 300 students who reside in the area from Brush Creek to around 77th Street and from State Line Road east to around Troost Avenue.
Principal Julie Lynch has led the school for the near-decade since it reopened and said this year marks its largest enrollment yet. She said opening a school was her dream as a principal because she could build a team from the ground up.
But one of her favorite parts of the school is something she didn’t have to build — the architecture of the 1920s building.
“It's an amazing old place and has lots of character in it. We really tried to preserve that when we did the renovation,” Lynch said. “In the library, there is a fireplace. In the auditorium, there is incredible crown molding and fancy chandeliers.”
Lynch’s other favorite part of the school is the children, staff and families she describes as “one giant family.”
Families poured into the school on Friday to meet alumni, play carnival games and eat birthday cake. The party also included a photo exhibit showcasing moments from Hale Cook’s century-long history.
Frank Schloegel, president of the school’s PTA, reflected on that history at Friday’s celebration. His daughter started preschool at Hale Cook the first year that it reopened, and now his son attends.
“It's pretty exciting to think about what the Kansas City Public School District has been through over 100 years, obviously facing desegregation and busing,” Schloegel said, “and it feels like we're making progress as a community that we can support public schools and make public schools a viable part of Kansas City's future.”
Schloegel said he was drawn to enrolling his kids at Hale Cook because he wanted his kids to attend a diverse school. His favorite part of the elementary is the community that’s formed around it.
His son, fifth-grader Quinn Schloegel, said he is a big fan of the school’s playgrounds, lunch and options during recess.
“This school … is one of the funnest schools I’ve had, mainly because I've only been here,” Quinn said. “The classes and teachers are really nice and fun to play with. They also give you lots of games, and they make learning a lot more fun for me.”
Lashawn Daniels said her sixth-grade son’s favorite part of school is hanging out with his friends, while she appreciates having a school in her neighborhood.
“I live in the Kansas City School District and I like that it's close to home,” Daniels said.
“I like the environment in the sense of involvement here with staff, students and parents,” she added.
Although Hale Cook accomplished the rare feat of reopening a shuttered school, that may not be replicable in other neighborhoods.
Hand said that affluence meant more people had home internet access, making it more affordable to mobilize its small group into a larger movement. She said they also had the advantage of understanding how to navigate the education system.
Still, she hopes the success of Hale Cook provides a model for community involvement in public education.
“Having neighborhood schools, making it easier for people to engage in their children's education is really at the center of it all and I hope that the parents and the families that are experiencing Hale Cook continue to see that,” Hand said. “But I also wish for that to happen in any school aged child, because that is so essential to their positive outcome.”
Before reopening Hale Cook, she said they worked with the more heavily Black Hartman Elementary to make sure they weren’t taking students away from that school while building a diverse student body that better reflects Hale Cook’s community.
And in the nearly 10 years since reopening, Lynch said the school has continued to work to serve its neighborhood.
“Our vision is to make sure that we're a successful school, and that we're doing what's best for kids,” Lynch said. “We've, year after year, shown that we are, and I think that's why parents want to come here, why they want to bring their kids here.”